Neck Pain and Computers
Almost all of the patients I treat work with computers and suffer from neck pain. An examination of their posture usually reveals that their head is no longer aligned with their shoulders. Instead, it has moved into a forward position, creating changes in the neck and shoulders. This is an example of how the body remodels or adapts itself structurally when we sit for hours at a time in the same posture. Think of hour many hours we are on a computer or even driving in a car each day. When these are our daily routines, we are creating repetitive postures and forcing the body to adapt.
So, how does the body adapt to working at a computer workstation for hours each day and how does this create chronic neck pain?
As we discussed previously, all experience is embedded in the body. In time, repeated experiences create habituated patterns of response over time that can be observed in one’s posture, movement patterns, vocal tone, and facial expressions. Research has found that repetitive use injuries are the most difficult to resolve. Dehydration of soft tissues due to altered blood flow may be the key reason.
Another factor in play is the brain structure known as the cerebellum. One of its jobs is to constantly tract where our body is in space so that and make adjustments for the protection of our brain and spinal cord as well as internal organs. It also helps us to coordinate body movements, balance, and posture without having to think about it. So, as we sit at the computer hour, after hour, our body tries to adjust our posture the best it can to adapt to this unnatural state of being. Eventually the body’s tracking device gets skewed and the body gets taxed from overcompensating. This can lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain. Try the following experiential exercise to get a sense of what is happening to our body when we sit for hours working on a computer:
Please take a moment to check in with your body. Close your eyes, take a breath, exhale, and use your senses to track bodily sensations like pulsing, breath, tension, or relaxation. Now, open your eyes, look at your computer screen. and continue reading this post.
Notice how your body begins to adapt, in the moment. Can you sense your eyes reaching towards the screen, followed by your head and neck? Your posture has begun to shift and adapt. The longer you sit in this position, the more your body will adjust itself to accommodate your position.
The Forward Head Position or The 42-Pound Head
What are the consequences of prolonged computer use? After awhile, your posture becomes habituated to this head forward position and you begin to experience chronic neck and shoulder pain because the natural interaction, function, and structure of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs have changed. According to Erik Dalton, your head will eventually weigh 42lbs as it cantilevers forward. See the link to his article at the end of this post.
A forward head pattern also affects important body functions like lymphatic drainage, air and blood flow, and swallowing. Eventually, eye strain, chronic muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain may result, leading to fatigue symptoms, degenerative disc disease, and even feelings of depression.
To undo this state will require a lot of work and perhaps some therapeutic assistance to realign posture and resolve any degenerative processes that may have begun.
Improvement won’t happen overnight. Patience and persistence will help you reach your goal of improved health and well-being.
This example demonstrates how the body physically adapts to the cumulative experience of using a computer. Stay tuned as we explore how stressful and overwhelming experience registers in the body to influence long-term health on a less observable level.
What steps have you taken to support your body while working at the computer?
Additional reading: http://erikdalton.com/media/published-articles/forward-head-posture/